There is no doubt that during the more than 150 years that it has existed,photography has changed the way we relate to the world around us. In a way, in the words of Susan Sontag, has altered the notion “of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe” (On Photography, 1971, p.3). Regarding the African continent, photography has also played a role. The “construction” of the African continent during the nineteenth and twentieth century by racist and colonial discourses has been based not only on words, spoken or written, but also and perhaps more powerfully, on images. Sontag notes “there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate, by seeing them as they never see themselves… ; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed” (On Photography, 1971, p .14). The profound relationship between the construction of an European imaginary of colonised Africa and photography has been explored numerous times. One of the most interesting examples may be the book ” Images and empires: visuality in colonial and postcolonial Africa “, edited by Paul S. Landau and Deborah D. Kaspin. In the Spanish context, this kind of colonial imagery is vividly portrayed in the book of Pere Ortín and Vic Pereira “Mbini: Hunters of images in colonial Guinea .
But while the Europeans used the “colonising camera” to create an image of Africa that corresponded to his racist discourse that justified colonial occupation, the camera was used during all this time for Africans to create their own discourses. Already during the nineteenth century African individuals and families posed in studio photography sessions that became a way to portray and create an alternative image to that suggested by Europeans. During the twentieth century, with cheaper and more easily available cameras, this construction of an alternative discourse began to democratise, being accessible to more people. With the advent of independence, many photographers became true chroniclers of the optimism and hope of these countries. Some of these chroniclers would become two of the best known African photographers: Malick Sidibé and Seidou Keita , both from Mali.
Merengue dancer, 1964, © Malick Sidibé. Photo courtesy Fifty One Fine Art Photography
Girls on Bike © Seydou Keita (via BBC Photography )
Today, fifty years after the independence of most of African countries, there are many photographers on the continent, each with different interests, languages and styles. Many blogs often comment on the work of these artists and journalists that convey different images of the continent. For example, Twiga recently pointed out a number of South African photographer (including the photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko, whose exhibition “Welcome to Paradise” can be seen in Casa África in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria until 19 February).
Other blogs like Africa is a Country , and A Bombastic Element , periodically make entries on the photography and photographers of the continent such as the Ghanaian Nana Kofi Acqua , or the South African Steve Bloom .
Despite these variety of images and photographers, the representation of the continent continues to be often manipulated by different discourses: in this case the images of primitive peoples used to justify colonial occupation have given way to images of poverty, wars, famines and disasters that support an image of Africa as a place with no present and no future. To counter this, various initiatives have emerged that seek to offer another image of the continent. An example of this is Joan Bardeletti’s project “Middle Classes in Africa” (via Africa is a Country ), which seeks to portray the African middle classes, and has started in Kenya and Ivory Coast. The choice of this population group is due both to the fact that it is growing rapidly, as to the fact that it has traditionally been seen as a symbol of Western development absent on the continent.
Kady Camara in his internet cafe and photocopying in Abidjan (Photo Middle Classes in Africa )
Another such project is “Africa Knows” , a Kenyan initiative that seeks to tell another story about Africa, through photojournalism and creative writing and using social networks and new technologies. In addition, photos of AfricaKnows can be bought online in various formats to support the project.
Been Together for Too Long (Photo: Joshua Wanyama)